Album review: SZA’s ‘SOS’

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5 years after her debut album Ctrl, SZA finally returns with her sophomore album SOS, which has become an instant hit, reminding us of her incredible artistry and the fact no one ever really does it like her.

The album has been an instant hit, marking a new era for the R&B genre where its confines are modernised and the time-honoured sound is blended with rap, alternative, rock and even folk.

Ever since 2017 and the release of Ctrl which catapulted her into stardom, Fans and journalists alike have been craving any form of new music just to hear her distinct but blissful voice again.

But whilst she released collaborations with artists such as Kendrick Lamar in recent years, the 33-year-old singer has struggled with the newfound fame and the impact it has since had on her life.

On the record, SZA grapples with an array of different subjects. From murder to issues with partners, she certainly knows how to simultaneously make listeners feel good with her upbeat tracks and leave them devoted to the intense meanings in the lyrics.

She led the record with the instant hit singles ‘Good Days’, ‘I Hate U’ and ‘Shirt’, torturing fans about the potential of new music for just under 2 years when ‘Good Days’ was released unexpectedly on Christmas day at the end of 2020.

Speaking to the press, the singer expressed that the record is “about heartbreak, it’s about being lost, it’s about being pissed,”.

SZA gloats about experiencing maturity after a relationship whilst doing the juxtaposing and somewhat childish act of killing her ex and his new girlfriend in the buoyant second track ‘Kill Bill’, presenting it through the lyrics “I’m so mature, I got me a therapist to tell me there’s other men”, and then to exclaim a mere few lines down “I might kill my ex, not the best idea, his new girlfriends next, how’d I get here?”

SZA for Billboard magazine. Credit: Billboard

Back in 2017 with her album Ctrl, SZA was praised for redefining the R&B genre, but this time around in SOS she takes it further. In tracks such as ‘Nobody gets me’, she incorporates elements of folk whilst still maintaining the classic sound popularised so many decades ago.

For other artists, the constant derailing into different genres could appear unorganised and not thought through, but SZA flawlessly executes the jump from the soulful gospel ballad of ‘Gone Girl’ to the mix of acoustic and rock in the track ‘F2F’, which draws on the emotional rollercoaster of losing your lover.

SZA was not entirely alone on this record, collaborating with the likes of Don Toliver on ‘Used’, Ol’ dirty bastard on ‘Forgiveless’ and her old-time friend Travis Scott on the track ‘Open Arms’, whom she previously collaborated with in her debut album on the fan favourite ‘Love Galore’.

The most surprising but easily the most intoxicating collab came from the indie powerhouse Phoebe Bridgers on the track ‘Ghost in the Machine’, detailing a difficult relationship with the music industry described as a ‘machine‘, forcing her to seek comfort in her partner, even if it is brief.

Shortly after the album was released, SZA announced her subsequent February 2023 North American tour which sees her performing at the acclaimed Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Whether this will be the last album from the singer or fans are left in a limbo about new music from her, (for years to come) is unknown, but what we do know is SZA has left a major legacy for herself with this album and 2023 Grammy nominations are surely in her sights.

The mixture of emotions, sounds and genres within this record is enough to make fans and non-fans alike feel some sort of empathy and connection to the intrinsic lyrics presented by the acclaimed R&B artist, and there is no doubt listeners have been left craving more.

Featured Image: SZA via Twitter

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